The Gaviota Pass

The Gaviota Pass is an historic route into Central California and has long been used by the natives, the Spanish and later settlers. There is much more here than just a nice highway rest stop. A former Photo of the Week selection.

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Aerial view of the Gaviota Pass looking south

Aerial view of the Gaviota Pass on Highway 101

Photo by John Wiley - Link to original

26 October 2012


After leaving Santa Barbara, Highway 101 continues west along the base of the Santa Ynez mountains (sometimes spelled "Inez") for more than 30 miles. This is a beautiful drive, always within view of the ocean, and is one of the longest stretches of east-west coastline on the eastern Pacific coast.

At Gaviota (spanish for seagull) the road leaves the coast and continues through the Gaviota Pass into the heart of Central California. This pass is dramatic and one definitely gets the sense of leaving one area and entering another.

Gaviota Pass tunnel northbound

The northbound tunnel on Highway 101 at Gaviota
(photo courtesy of Discover Santa Barbara)

Obviously, this isn't the only route into or out of Central California, but it is the one where the feel of changing regions is most clearly defined.

The Gaviota Pass has been used as a route through these mountains since time immemorial. The Chumash indians regularly made their way through here. The Spanish used it as did the early American settlers to California.

Northward view of the Gaviota Pass from the pier

Northward view of the Gaviota Pass and the railroad bridge from the pier at Gaviota State Park

The above video was taken from an unmanned radio controlled copter and shows mainly the area around the pier and the railroad trestle at Gaviota Beach. Watch for the layers of sedimentary rock at either end of the trestle which are turned upward at 45 degrees. This is a feature also found up and down the coast for several miles and flanking the Gaviota Pass itself.

The video maker didn't add music to this one so you might just want to mute the sound unless you like the noise of the rotors.

Gaviota Pass rock - Indian chin

A view of what used to be known as "The Indian chin" on the left. A rare view as northbound traffic has been diverted into the southbound lanes for maintenance on the tunnel.

The first highway built through here was a simple two lane road back in the early 1900's. The road was known then as "California Route 2".

As the aerial view shows, this is a very narrow gap and there is a creek that flows through there as well.

When the planners decided on a divided four lane road, it was clear that a tunnel would be needed through the huge mass of volcanic rock on the eastern side of the pass.

The tunnel is approximately ΒΌ mile long and was opened in 1953. It has appeared in several movies including The Graduate.

Alpenglow on the hills above the Gaviota Pass

Alpenglow on the hills above the Pass at Gaviota

There are rest areas for both north and southbound lanes just to the south of the pass. It's a good stopping place and affords nice views of the surrounding hills and the unique geology here.

In the northbound rest area, there is a series of plaques that outline the histories of the pass and the surrounding area from prehistoric to modern times.

One of a series of plaques in the northbound Gaviota rest area

If you enjoy hiking and camping, this is a good spot for both. The 2700+ acre Gaviota State Park offers camping near the beach with a pier for fishing. The park has numerous trails with a lusher version of chaparral due to the ocean influence.

Not far from the Pass, to the northeast, is found Nojoqui Park which is home to the beautiful Nojoqui Falls.

A view of Gaviota State Park

Hills and valleys in Gaviota State Park

If you have been through here before, it's easy to think that the Pass at Gaviota is one of those "On this spot in 1854, nothing happened" places.

But that's what make Central California interesting - all those hidden treasures. And the Gaviota Tunnel and Pass is certainly one of them.

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Back to Highway 101 page

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Tilted sedimentary rocks at the Gaviota Pass

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